Oliver Brendon is founder and chief executive of ATD Travel Services, the parent company of Dosomethingdifferent.com, Attraction Tickets Direct and the tour operator Complete Orlando. He is currently stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh.
“I’m stuck in Sharm el-Sheikh having booked a package holiday with Sovereign (part of Tui) and was due to fly home last Friday. I also own a number of travel companies and we currently have families stranded in Florida, so I’m seeing this situation from both sides.
From my experience, it is abundantly clear that there is an urgent requirement in the travel industry for strong leadership, from either the government or a non-profit organisation which is funded, run properly and is fit for purpose.
The families I’ve spoken to in Sharm el-Sheikh have been given conflicting information regarding their ongoing costs.
All assumed they were on a package holiday and that the cost of incremental accommodation and meals would be covered by their tour operator. However, many of them have booked via an agent that dynamically packaged various components and so have been shocked to discover that they are actually flight-only customers and will be treated as such (which currently means no financial assistance in resort).
They then assumed that there must be a central body such as Abta, Atol, CAA, Iata or the FTO which is responsible. No such luck! These are all grand and powerful sounding acronyms but organisations with little authority and virtually no money.
They then think that there must be a central government fund that will assist them; after all, the government was quick enough to bail out the fraudulent banks. Again, no such luck. There isn’t even a Minister for Tourism, and this disaster and its ensuing chaos highlights the need for one even more acutely.
The service that my family has received from Tui has been very good and I feel fortunate that we are one of their package customers, but their policy has been changing daily and the law isn’t clear. Back in the UK, my company called the CAA in London since we are an Atol-bonded operator, and they said it was not their responsibility to stipulate the law. The terms of all tour operators will claim that they cannot be held liable under a force majeur.
On Monday, however, the FCO website (a government body) claimed that tour operators who have sold package holidays were “responsible for the care and accommodation” for their customers stranded abroad. Today they have changed that advice and simply recommend that package holiday customers contact their tour operator.
The help that customers are receiving, and establishing whether they have booked a package or not, depends on which tour operator they have booked with and this can vary hugely.
Tui and Thomas Cook are definitely covering all incremental accommodation and meal costs for their customers in Sharm el-Sheikh (and, I assume, worldwide) but smaller, independent operators appear not to be doing so.
The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992 sections 13 and 14 are also open to interpretation since package operators have supplied all elements of the package except the return flight, which they cannot supply due to it being an ‘act of God’. But section 14.2 states “where, after departure, a significant proportion of the services contracted for are not provided or the organiser becomes aware that he will be unable to procure a significant proportion of the services to be provided…. The organiser will make suitable alternative arrangements, at no extra cost to the consumer, for the continuation of the package and will, where appropriate, compensate the consumer for the difference between the services to be supplied under the contract and those supplied.”
The questions must be:
1. Why should Tui lose £6m a day, as reported by Travel Weekly yesterday? A volcano in Iceland is hardly its fault. However, by covering the incremental costs for their package holiday customers, they are setting a precedent that smaller operators simply cannot follow. We work in an industry where even successful travel companies are making 3% to 4% net margins and thereby an unforeseen large cost will put a lot of small operators out of business. And this is a cost that cannot be planned for or insured against.
2. Why is there not one, central body in travel which can clarify the law and the responsibilities of airlines, operators and agents and understand the various ways in which they trade and in turn the impact that has on their customers?
3. Why will the government bail out risk-taking banks but not responsible travel companies? We are being hit by the potential costs of covering incremental accommodation and sales while this crisis drags on are poor as customers will not have the appetite to purchase or plan a holiday until the skies fully re-open.”
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